No, not Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, but my idea of a short intermittent series of self-contained musical performances shorter than, say, twenty minutes.
When I think of the marvels of my jazz immersion — being the recipient of a Jo Jones monologue; Kenny Davern showing me that my microphone placement was all wrong; speaking to and hearing Bobby Hackett and Teddy Wilson — I come around to Jess Stacy, a true hero. I didn’t get to exchange a word with him or get his autograph, but I was in the same room with Jess Stacy when he played solo piano. Never mind that the “room” was hardly intimate — Carnegie Hall has more than 3500 seats. I was there, with my little semi-concealed cassette recorder.
The sound is boomy and mushy (complainers will be cut out of my will) but those tremolos and ringing single-notes are still clear as day, and the shift from his semi-rubato introductions into tempo is like sunrise in Hawaii. He was a little slower, but he was himself.
This was another “SO-LO PIANO” concert at Newport in New York, and Jess played HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON, LOVER MAN, and I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU. The familiar voice at the start is of course Marian McPartland:
People of my generation — who watched cartoons on a black-and-white television set and wrote their college essays on a typewriter — often tend to be scornful of the youth they might call “those kids.” I’ve been guilty of the satire myself, having taught college freshmen and sophomores as my career. “Those ______ kids. They can’t do anything if it’s not on their phones. What are they creating besides text messages?” and so on.
But my decades of immersion in jazz, deeper and longer than my career, have shown me that sometimes the stereotype is false, because some of the great pleasure I continue to have is in listening to people much younger than myself, people who can sing and play but also could help me fix my iPhone. You’ve seen them on this site, I trust.
A friend from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (the alma mater of one of my heroes, the writer William Maxwell) asked me if I’d heard of SIMPLY THIS QUINTET. I hadn’t, but this video shows why she was impressed. They are serious, intent, and playful all at once; they not only understand the tradition but they are being it:
Here’s what they have to say about themselves:
Coming together at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Fall of 2018, Simply This Quintet was formed with the goal of reinterpreting the classic two tenor saxophone jazz ensembles of the 1950’s and 60’s in a modern jazz idiom through composition and performance of their original music. Since its inception, Simply This has been heard across central Illinois and is continuing to grow their following. Their first EP, Simply This, was released in August 2020. With the help of funding from the Presser Graduate Award received by bandleader Matthew Storie, Stepping Up was created.
“Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic we had notrehearsed or performed together since August 2020. Because of the unique nature of the group consisting of graduate students, we weren’t able to focus on this project until the spring academic semester ended. We had a total of eleven days to figure out which eight songs would be on this album. In deciding on those eight songs, we rehearsed brand new music as well as considered music from our library of over 25 original compositions. We rehearsed about 3 hours a day, every day, for those eleven days along with playing two gigs in town to get comfortable performing with each other as we explored this music. Our drummer Frank Kurtz affectionately calls these eleven days together “Jazz Camp”. The level of comfort within the ensemble grew by the hour, and we returned each day with new ideas to make this music ours. I believe Stepping Up exemplifies the quintet’s dedication to the history of jazz as well as the future of jazz, as each member continues to develop their voice within the voice of the ensemble.” -Matthew Storie.
STEPPING UP will be available through Bandcamp, and here‘s the band’s Facebook page.
They’re worth your attention — and they defy the stereotypes.